How Do You Approach Long Holiday Weekend Worship?
This weekend is Labor Day weekend, which means people will be traveling out of town, having parties, eating and drinking more than normal, and watching entirely too much college football. It also likely means, as most long weekends do, that worship attendance will be down.
I am fascinated with how worship and non-church-related events are correlated. Spurred by the 4th of July, I wrote a post on the relationship of patriotic holidays and worship. When I worked in campus ministry, I observed all kinds of weird connections between worship attendance and the football games the day before. Thumbnail sketch–losses were good for attendance, and later game times actually meant better attendance–go figure!
There are quite a few long weekends, like the one that is upon us. At the very least, there is Labor Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend, and Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Even though Thanksgiving is on a Thursday, it can often bleed over as well. Other holidays move around the days of the week, and can end up on Fridays or Mondays. Federal holidays like Veteran’s Day or the 4th of July can cause long weekends even if they fall on the natural weekend as they are “observed” usually on the following Monday. This year, Christmas and New Years fall on Fridays, which might affect worship. And then there are school-related holidays like homecoming or the weekends before and after spring break.
My question to you is: how do you plan for long weekends?
Who preaches? Is it the senior/lead pastor, an associate pastor, or a lay speaker? Do you bring in a guest speaker or have a testimony? Or do you do something different with the message time–like show a video or have a hymn sing?
Is the choir/band at full strength? Are they paired back? Or do they skip entirely?
If you are a series preacher, do you do a one-off message that can stand alone and easily be missed? Do you plow right on through expecting people to be there (or catch up via recording)? Or do you intentionally begin or end a series in hopes of encouraging attendance?
These questions point to the underlying issue of planning practically versus thematically. Smaller churches/ministries are definitely going to be at the mercy of the schedule of volunteers and congregation members. Bigger churches may have enough people to keep the experience the same every weekend. However, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to be there every Sunday. Even pastors and church staff need to be able to miss Sunday on occasion too.
So, the questions shift to ones of culture. Is it still worship if the senior/lead pastor isn’t preaching? How about if the primary worship leader or choir isn’t singing? Is it still worship if the “quality” of the experience goes down? Does a one-off message or different voices in worship communicate (intentionally or unintentionally) that skipping is ok?
My gut feeling is that the vast majority, if not all, of churches have to take the practical considerations into account. But how we do that reveals what we actually think and believe. God is not any less present or any less interested in our worship when the numbers are down. God is never away on vacation, and God does not check who is preaching before deciding whether or not to show up.
The biggest challenge is not making sure that all the bases are covered. In the Gospels, the disciples were awful at that. The feeding of the multitudes comes to mind when the disciples were tasked with giving everyone something to eat. The best they could come up with was a small amount of bread and fish that wasn’t even theirs. Jesus took it, blessed it, and multiplied it so that there wasn’t just enough but too much.
No, the biggest challenge isn’t the logistics of worship, but the heart of worship. If we write off weekends like this ahead of time, counting them as a loss, we miss out on being open to God doing the same kind of miracle in our midst.